We recognise activities at our operated assets can impact the health of our people and the communities where we operate.
Our approach and position
Mandatory requirements to manage and protect the health and wellbeing of our employees and contractors are set out in the Our Requirements for Health standard and our mandatory minimum performance requirements for risk management, as well as local regulatory requirements, standards and procedures.
For information on the role of the BHP Board in overseeing our approach to and delivery on sustainability refer to the Sustainability approach webpage.
Potential health risks at our workplaces include exposure to musculoskeletal stressors, noise, coal mine dust, silica and diesel particulate matter (DPM), and mental health impacts. We manage our exposures to potentially harmful agents with internally specified occupational exposure limits (OELs) based on available scientific evidence and implement a program of preventative health measures and wellbeing support.
For our occupational exposures, our process to set OELs involves periodic monitoring and evaluation of scientific literature, benchmarking against peers, engagement with regulators and OEL-setting agencies and expert independent advice. Our approach to monitoring and reviewing our internal OELs is designed to ensure they continue to be aligned with or are stricter than applicable regulated health limits. We implement a range of exposure reduction plans designed to reduce exposures to harmful substances to as low as reasonably practicable.
We conduct periodic medical surveillance to detect signs of potential occupational illness at an early stage and assist our people through the management of illness that is a result of exposure at our workplaces. Our medical surveillance program is based on local regulatory requirements and evidenced-based industry best practice. The effectiveness of our exposure controls is regularly reviewed and subjected to periodic audit to verify the controls are implemented and operating as designed.
The Our Requirements for Health standard is based on internationally accepted practice with requirements to identify occupational exposures with the potential to cause harm; assess the risk posed by those exposures; implement exposure controls; and where exposure cannot be immediately reduced to an acceptable level, provide personal protective equipment and undertake health surveillance.
For guidance on the process to identify and assess occupational exposures, we specifically reference:
- American Industrial Hygiene Association’s A Strategy for Assessing and Managing Occupational Exposures
- International standard ISO TR7708:1995 Air quality – Particle size fraction definitions for health-related sampling
- UK Health and Safety Executive’s Health and Safety Laboratory Methods for the Determination of Hazardous Substances (MDHS)14/4: General methods for sampling and gravimetric analysis of respirable, thoracic and inhalable aerosols
- US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s Manual of Analytical Methods and the UK HSE, Methods for the Determination of Hazardous Substances
- International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Radiation Protection and Safety of Radiation Sources: International Basic Safety Standards – Interim
- Edition General Safety Requirements Part 3. IAEA Safety Standards Series No. GSR Part 3, 2014
- European Union standards for whole-body and hand-arm vibration
In line with Our Charter and our culture of care, we undertake activities to enhance the physical and mental wellbeing of our employees. This includes the provision of preventative health measures as appropriate for the location, such as vaccinations, gym facilities, onsite physiotherapy, healthy food alternatives at our worker village accommodation and a range of mental health resources including our Employee Assistance Program.
A range of targeted health programs, such as the Better Sleep Program and Heat Management Program, are made available at our operated assets where there are relevant workplace issues. Workers at remote sites are provided with emergency medical care and primary health care through onsite medical facilities, with telehealth consultations available. These services are provided by qualified individuals, including paramedics, occupational health nurses and medical practitioners, as appropriate, depending on the location. In most of our remote operations, these services are accessible during and after working hours.
We continue to monitor emerging health issues and trends through our membership of industry and professional associations, informal benchmarking, networking and participation in national and international conferences. We also monitor information from scientific journals and occupational health regulatory setting and advisory agencies.
Coal mine dust lung disease
In our Sustainability Report for FY2017, we reported on the re-identification of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP) in our industry, the number of our current employees and former workers who had been diagnosed with CWP and the steps we had taken in response. We have updated this information in our reporting for each subsequent fiscal year.
As at 30 June 2023, nine cases of coal mine dust lung disease1 were reported to the Queensland Department of Natural Resources Mines and Energy (DNRME)2. Four of the accepted coal mine dust lung disease claims in FY2023 were current BHP employees, while the remaining five were former workers. For cases involving current employees, we offer counselling, medical support and redeployment options where relevant. Former employees are subject to workers compensation insurance and associated care is managed through that process outside of BHP.
We have implemented controls across all our relevant operated assets with the goal of ensuring none of our workers are exposed to respirable coal mine dust above the OEL. We continue to identify and progress projects, such as real-time dust monitoring, to ensure exposures remain controlled and seek to implement high order controls to eliminate or reduce exposures.
1 CMDLD is the name given to the lung diseases related to exposure to coal mine dust and includes coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, silicosis, mixed dust pneumoconiosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
2 Cases reported to DNRME are not an indication of work relatedness. BHP evaluates each case for work relatedness and where identified, the case will be included in occupational illness reporting.
The wellbeing and safety of our people is of paramount importance as we continue to work towards enhancing the safety, inclusiveness and future-readiness of our workforce. In FY2023, to make meaningful and positive improvement, we built stronger relationships through our active contributions to the Global Business Collaboration for Better Workplace Mental Health. Wellness Committees have been set up across our operated assets and corporate offices. There is strong ongoing participation in global health campaigns, such as Mental Health Month, RUOK day and Movember, which aim to increase awareness and overall mental wellbeing.
Building on the momentum of FY2021 when we introduced our first global BHP Mental Health Month, our focus for the FY2023 campaign was to educate our teams on identifying workplace psychosocial hazards. These campaigns are designed to promote awareness of the importance of individual and team wellbeing and educate leaders on the role they play in supporting our people when they seek support and the various resources available at BHP.
In FY2023, the Psychosocial Risk Assessment Program was established in recognition of the importance of understanding any psychosocial hazards that may be impacting wellbeing at work. The program utilised industry best practice research with business consultation activities to identify the most significant psychosocial hazards within our business. This has laid the foundation for a number of best practice mitigating and preventative controls at both local and global levels that are designed to address the risk arising from these hazards.
Support for employees affected by family and domestic violence
Caring for our people’s safety extends beyond our operations.
BHP’s Family and Domestic Violence Assistance Program aims to provide employees with support for their health, safety, wellbeing, and independence if they are experiencing family and domestic violence. As part of the program, employees can access up to 10 days additional paid leave if they are affected by family and domestic violence or supporting someone who is.
Support available also includes emergency accommodation, emergency financial help and the implementation of safety and security plans. These plans consider safety measures such as transport to and from work, changing location of work, setting up new phone numbers, screening/blocking calls and emails, and supporting access to legal advice.
The reported occurrence of occupational illness for employees in FY2023 was 304, which was 4.35 per million hours worked. This represented an increase in incidence compared with FY2022, which was 4.11 per million hours worked. For our contractor workforce, the reported occupational illness in FY2023 was 202, which was 1.99 per million hours worked, representing an increase in incidence compared with FY2022, which was 1.70 per million hours worked. Due to regulatory regimes and limited access to data, we do not have full oversight of the incidence of contractor noise-induced hearing (NIH) loss cases.
Musculoskeletal illness is the predominant occupational illness category representing 72 per cent of our workforce illnesses in FY2023. These conditions affect the musculoskeletal system and connective tissues caused by repetitive work-related stress, strain or exposure over time. Musculoskeletal illness does not include disorders caused by slips, trips, falls or similar incidents.
Noise-induced hearing loss represents 7 per cent of illnesses in FY2023. Workers exposed to noise above acceptable levels participate in hearing conservation programs, which include a periodic hearing test and hearing protection fit testing. We have established design recommendations that seek to eliminate or reduce high or prolonged noise exposures by focusing on the source of the noise. Other illness categories include skin diseases, temperature-related illnesses, mental illness, bites, stings and other unspecified illnesses.
BHP has for more than a decade set occupational exposure limits (OELs) for our most material exposures based on the latest scientific evidence. Where exposures potentially exceed regulatory limits or our limits (where BHP has stricter limits than local regulatory requirements), respiratory protective equipment is required to be worn. Exposure data on this webpage in all cases is presented without considering protection afforded by using personal protective equipment.
BHP follows the hierarchy of controls to reduce exposures to as low as reasonably practicable. Our Risk Framework and minimum requirements emphasise preventive controls that reduce the likelihood of chemical and physical hazards in the atmospheres where workers undertake their routine work. When these preventive controls are inefficient or ineffective, we implement mitigating controls, such as respiratory protective equipment until appropriate preventive controls are identified, implemented and verified to consistently reduce exposure well below occupational exposure limits. Occupational exposure limits indicate the level of permissible exposure for a length of time (usually eight hours) to a chemical or physical hazard that is not likely to affect the health of a worker. Occupational exposure limits for our most material exposures are set according to the latest scientific evidence.
In FY2023, for our most material exposures of diesel particulate matter (DPM), respirable silica and coal mine dust we had a 33 per cent reduction in the number of workers potentially exposed compared with our FY2022 exposure profile. This includes no workers potentially exposed to coal mine dust, 35 per cent reduction in the number of workers with potential exposure to DPM and 32 per cent reduction in the number of workers potentially exposed to respirable silica. When exposure reduction is considered over the last six years, we have achieved a 79 per cent reduction to our most material exposures.
We are committed to having no AL4 (fatalities and life-threatening illnesses) events and a reduction in life-altering injuries and illnesses. Due to the latency between initial exposure and diagnosis of disease for our most material airborne contaminant exposures, we must demonstrate ongoing exposure reduction and effectiveness of controls, where exposures may remain elevated. As we continue to manage exposures to as low as reasonably practicable, in FY2023, we had reduction plans developed at the asset level. The exposure reduction plans were prioritised based on risk with a focus on the assets’ most material exposures. The implementation of these exposure reduction projects and sustaining the results achieved will continue to be a focus in FY2024.
Health hazard training is provided in inductions at hire and periodically thereafter. Workers who use hearing and respiratory protective devices are provided with information on health exposures and training when they are fit tested for those devices. Where workers take part in occupational exposure assessment programs, they receive written feedback on their results and de-identified data is provided to line management. We have started implementation of real-time monitoring devices in our Minerals Australia and Minerals Americas operated assets to support exposure reduction of silica and DPM. Fixed-position monitors can identify dusty conditions in real time, enabling controls such as increased ventilation or water sprays to be deployed. Data from personal monitors is available at the end of shifts rather than weeks later, when results of samples sent to the laboratory for analysis become available. This enables prompt action to be taken if potential exposure increases or exceeds our OEL.
Managing heat stress
Heat stress contributed to 2 per cent of our reported occupational illnesses in FY2023. High temperatures and strenuous activity place some of our workforce at an increased risk of heat illness. Currently, high-risk work groups are identified and a range of controls are in place to manage heat stress. In FY2024, further heat stress awareness training through field leadership, guidance material and awareness campaigns, along with targeted heat stress management, including hydration testing, will be introduced to support the management of tasks completed in high temperatures. In recognition that climate change may exacerbate existing heat stress risks, we are also piloting an approach at Olympic Dam to better understand and quantify the potential impact of heat stress on our workforce under different future climate scenarios. For further information please refer to the Heat stress management case study.
When a health issue has the potential to impact the health or wellbeing of our people, we apply BHP’s Risk Framework to identify, assess and manage the risk. For more information on risk, refer to the BHP Annual Report 2023, Operating and Financial Review 8 – How we manage risk.
Heat stress management
At BHP, we are committed to enhancing the safety, diversity, and overall wellbeing of our people. Exposure to high temperatures, especially with strenuous activity, may place parts of the workforce at an increased risk of heat related illnesses.